January is usually a difficult month. In the North its cold, grey, wet and a sobering experience following the festive season. Having been in a more tropical climate in December I was finding adjusting back into a regular routine just that little bit more challenging.
Luckily my friend Julie had bought some tickets for a show – The Ruling Class – and offered me the chance to see it with her. Having not heard of the play before I was thinking I should do a little research as to what I’d signed up for. This intention became irrelevant upon reading the rest of Julie’s email invite – she’d managed to get tickets in Row B and the play’s star was James McAvoy. Very, very exciting.
Seeing him being interviewed on the Graham Norton show a couple of weeks before our performance, he was asked to demonstrate his ‘unicycling’ skills – since this was part of the show. I was even more intrigued.
Meeting up for some food (and of course Prosecco) beforehand, Julie and I contemplated the nature of the play itself – which I still didn’t know anything about other than what the title suggested. We were both rather excited – so much so we had to take a selfie in front of the poster hanging outside the theatre.
Row B at Trafalgar Studios means one step off the stage – literally. My eyes grew wide when I saw the cast would essentially be in touching distance.
What a show. Penned by Peter Barnes in 1968, it was also adapted into a film starring Peter O’Toole in 1972. It is a complete indictment of the ‘upper’ classes in British Society. Beginning with the bizarre and accidental death of the Earl of Gurney, it proceeds with the family’s battle to maintain control over his estate and to contest the succession of his only surviving son – who just so happens to be a paranoid schizophrenic who believes he is God.
Intense performances, all delivered with such wit the laughter from the audience keeps rolling even though the action becomes progressively uncomfortable. As the drama escalates the narrative becomes darker, but the laughs and innuendos continue to be sprinkled into the dialogue making the experience increasingly sinister. At points I found myself laughing more out of unease and, at moments, almost shock.
I would actually go and see it again. It feels really relevant to our changing times where life seems to be lived in extremes and there is much fear in the air coupled with discontent with austerity and the uncertainty of a hotly contested upcoming general election.
Once the house lights were brought up, Julie and I found our way outside and sprung our evening’s master plan into action. Exiting right by the stage door we made a beeline for it hoping to grab a chance of meeting the evening’s anti-hero.
Quite a crowd gathered (unsurprisingly) of which the ratio of women to men was literally 99% – 1%. The rest of the cast slowly exited to a sprinkle of underwhelming applause. Very quietly – the inner door opened and there was a collective sigh, McAvoy stepped out onto the pavement and the sigh escalated to soft squeals of delight as those towards the back of the queue caught sight of him.
A total gentleman, he greeted everyone, was chatty and friendly, made time for each request to sign something or take a picture. I was relieved to see he had a Sharpie in his hand – since all the pens Julie had with her refused to make a mark on my ticket.
Suddenly it was our turn. Upon hearing Julie’s Scottish accent, he asked where she was from. She answered Fort William and he continued to say that he had been hiking there recently. I can’t remember being able to articulate words other than ‘would you mind’ and ‘thank you’.
After about five steps up the pavement I just started jumping up and down, not quite believing what had just happened.Again, Julie and I had to selfie the moment. We also had to keep reassuring each other that this was real and not just some weirdly lucid shared dream.
It was a magical evening, spending time catching up with a friend, being riveted by quality theatre, topped of by getting touched by a movie star.
The Ruling Class runs through until April and tickets have been released at a stagger so get hold of some if you can. Well worth it. I’m going to try get my hands on a copy of the film next. And yes, the unicycling was indeed a sight to behold!